Other Sides is the first anthology to be published by Ergofiction, an online magazine and gathering place for readers and writers of webfiction. I’d not heard of webfiction before reading this, and in a slightly daft moment I thought it might be fiction about the internet. Not that that couldn’t be interesting, but no; webfiction, says editor Jan Oda after assessing the definition scuffle that naturally develops in any genre, is fiction “written to be published on the internet” in any form “as long as it tells a tale”. Novelr notes that it’s “always original; never derivative” – in other words, no fanfic. Webfiction is also known as webliterature, weblit or webfic, but some authors dislike the latter term because it’s a little too close to fanfic, which besides feeding off other people’s ideas, is also known for being rather crap. The point that I’m pleased to make here is that webfiction take writing and storytelling seriously; at least, that’s the impression I got from this entertaining little collection of bite-size short fiction, which you can download for free on Ergofiction’s site.
Honestly, I was sceptical about the quality of the anthology, but with good reason. The internet is undoubtedly a source of weird and wonderful things as well as a powerful means of defying the mainstream but it also allows people to make their drivel available to the world (actually, regular publishing is guilty of that too, but that’s another rant). I really shouldn’t have worried though – while the quality of webfiction no doubt varies, Ergofiction has skilfully cleaved signal from noise and compiled a very good collection that uses the “dwindling” form of print publishing, as Oda puts it, to introduce readers to authors who have “built worlds in their own little corner of the internet” (introduction). Each story is accompanied by a short bio on the writer and their fiction, as well as details of their website(s) should you wish to keep reading.
Other Sides starts out strong with Walking Home with Strangers, Zoe E. Whitten’s tale about an ex-thief’s encounter with a vampire. A proper, monstrous vampire, not an uber- sexy one who seduces said thief. Whitten uses an inventive narrative for her story, telling it with only one half of a conversation between two people. Dalston Junction by MeiLin Miranda is another gem, but it’s best enjoyed without a plot summary so I’ll just recommend that you not miss it. The Little Problem by MCM is probably my favourite – a very funny sci fi tale about a pair of intergalactic narcotics cops investigating some drug-smuggling alien gnomes.
On the more serious side, New Stories by M.C.A Hogarth uses a family drama with gender-changing aliens to strike a blow against tradition, religion and sexual inequality. Mifflin County Coke Blues by Isa K also criticises social convention, while M. Jones turns emotional and physical clutter into horror in The Junk Drawer.
Unfortunately some stories are a bit weak, resulting in my overall 3-star rather than a 4-star rating. It’s not that any of these stories are bad or boring, but that feel too much like sample chapters from a novel, instead of complete stories in themselves. All of Other Sides’ tales are on the shorter side of short story, but for some a few extra pages and a bit more world-building or narrative would have been very welcome. Both The Psionics: On the Road by G.L. Drummond and Sixth of November by Nancy Brauer feature teenage or twenty-something individuals with psychic powers, feeling a lot like scenes from the latest YA sci fi movie. Not really my thing, but I think it’s something YA fans would really enjoy and want more of. Ditto Poaching by Lyn Thorne-Alder and Chris Childs, which would appeal to older YA fantasy fans. It’s set in a highly competitive and hierarchical magic school, where some students are actually owned by others, seemingly as sexual pets. Told from the perspective of one of these ‘pets’, who thinks of herself as her owner’s girlfriend, it shows a glimpse of a twisted romance with the hint of social rebellion.
Two ‘less complete’ stories whose universes I personally would have preferred to explore more were In the Court of the Peacock King by Erica Bercegay and Charissa Cotrill (about a spy in a fantasy kingdom), and The Spaces in Between by T.L. Whiteman, where a beautiful assassin and her student argue about Creationism over dinner in a French restaurant while waiting for the opportunity to kill their demon target. The latter also won points with me when the student says of his target “It deserves to die worse than any of the others; it watches romance films for God’s sake” (78). Luckily, Whiteman has more fiction in this universe available on her website.
The collection rounds up nicely with Belonging by Ergofiction editor A.M. Harte, a biopunk story told at the moment the world becomes post-apocalyptic. It also has a nice little reference to the anthology itself, when the narrator spots a “slim volume called Other Sides” (113). Like the genetically engineered narrator, webfiction is fiction from ‘the other side’, independent, experimental, unbound by the demands of publishers or markets.
One thing I have to mention, because I was very impressed by it, is the quality of the writing, which is consistently good. Any one of Other Sides’ authors writes far better than some of the authors being paid millions today just for typing out what seem to be the first sentences to float lazily through their heads. But in Other Sides writing is respected as a craft, not clumsily wielded like some blunt storytelling tool.
I would certainly like to see more anthologies from Ergofiction. Lacking the time and patience to fully explore webfiction, I appreciate the passion that the editors have put into compiling this collection, giving new readers an excellent sampler, and hopefully winning the authors the attention they deserve.